Tahir Yuldashev, from a propaganda tape released in 2006.
Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan indicate that the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was killed during a US airstrike in South Waziristan in late August.
Tahir Yuldashev, emir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is said to have been killed in a strike by an unmanned US aircraft in the town of Kanigoram on Aug. 27, 2009. The strike took place in a known stronghold of the Taliban forces under the command of Mullah Nazir.
Eight Taliban fighters and Uzbek fighters were reported killed in the attack, but no senior leader was initially reported killed.
The first report of Yuldashev’s death emerged on Sept. 28, when a man called Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek service for Radio Liberty, identified himself as a bodyguard for Yuldashev, and said the leader had died from wounds one day after the strike. According to the caller, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was trying to hide Yuldashev’s death.
The caller also claimed that Yuldashev had been replaced by “an ethnic Tatar by name of Abdurakhman.” An Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader known as Zubair ibn Abdurakhman is said to serve as the group’s spokesman as well as a leader of a faction of the group.
Anonymous Pakistani officials are now saying that Yuldashev did indeed die in the Aug. 27 strike. “The man has kicked the bucket,” a senior Pakistani government official told Dawn. “He is dead beyond doubt,” another Pakistani official said.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not confirm that Yuldashev was killed. “We are aware of the reports and investigating, but do not have evidence he was killed at this time,” one senior military intelligence official said.
Pakistani intelligence has claimed Yuldashev has been killed in the past. Most recently, Yuldashev and ‘pro-government’ Taliban leader Mullah Nazir were reported killed in a strike on Oct. 31, 2008. Both later resurfaced.
Yuldashev’s death, if confirmed, would mean the US has killed five senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the Aug. 5 strike that killed Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan leader Baitullah Mehsud.
Also thought killed are: Ilyas Kashmiri, the operations commander of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-Islami and the operations chief of Brigade 313; Najmuddin Jalolov, the leader of the Islamic Jihad Group, a breakaway faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; and Mustafa al Jaziri, a senior military commander for al Qaeda who sits on al Qaeda’s military shura.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Pakistan and Afghanistan
Yuldashev took command of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan after Juma Namangani was killed by anti-Taliban fighters from the Northern Alliance during the US invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001. Namangani and Yuldashev had co-founded the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in 1998.
Yuldashev is said to have been one of the senior commanders battling US forces during Operation Anaconda in the Shahi-Kot Valley in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Paktia in March 2002.
The IMU is closely allied with al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. Yuldashev’s fighters shelter in North and South Waziristan; there are an estimated 2,500 to 4,000 IMU fighters based in the region.
The IMU is strong in northern Afghanistan, where, over the past two years, the insurgency has been revitalized. The Taliban and the IMU have carried out attacks against NATO’s new supply corridor from Tajikistan through the northern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan. The Taliban, with the help of the IMU, control several districts in Kunduz and Baghlan. As many as 80 al Qaeda-linked militants, including Uzbeks and Chechens, are operating in areas southwest of Kunduz City.
The IMU has also extended its violent reach into Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to the north. Under the command of Mullah Abdullah, a force of 300 IMU and Taliban fighters attacked a police station in the town of Tavil-Dara in Tajikistan on July 9. Abdullah is thought to have crossed from Kunduz into Tajikistan several weeks before the attack. Eleven days later, the IMU attacked a remote military checkpoint in Tajikistan near the Afghan border. Five IMU fighters were killed during the assault.